Porn on the School Computer

 This is an excerpt from my book, Bravery, Bullies & Blowhards…

*This is based on fact. The names have been changed. Some  individuals in this excerpt hold public office.

August 26, 2002, was the first day of school and, as I had done every day in previous years, I turned on my classroom computer to check my inbox, only to discover that hard-core pornography had infiltrated my world of academia. Hundreds of e-mails containing bestiality, child pornography and obscene, vulgar language splashed across the screen. Men dressed in biker clothing consorting with young girls in school-like uniforms and men sodomizing sheep had infected my computer.  Alarmed by what I saw flashing on my computer screen I quickly sought out help. Rules implemented by the school were in place and very clear.

Immediately stop everything, contact administration and the administration will alert computer tech.

So my first step was to call the office and ask for assistance.  While I waited for an administrator and computer tech to arrive, I saw Belinda Simms and another aide walking down the hall. I waved them into my classroom. I figured that a couple of witnesses certainly wouldn’t hurt. Within minutes, the school’s computer tech person came sprinting into my room and quickly shooed the two aides out of the classroom.  After she traced the source of the pornography, she immediately deduced that it wasn’t spam. “It’s something you have to subscribe to,” she added. This was all news to me. We didn’t yet have e-mail at home, and my school computer was, to my mind, merely a tool for research and communication with parents and the administration. And this was certainly my first glimpse into this black world.

Using my classroom phone, she called Assistant Superintendent Clark Messenger and reported the pornography. She then copied some of the pictures and addresses and said, “If you ever need this as evidence, its right here.”  She took the file and left.  I never saw that particular file again. Before leaving, she handed me a single picture and some web addresses. Those I forwarded to the Montana Human Rights Bureau/EEOC along with other e-mails and site addresses.

Without my knowledge, Messenger reported the pornography to Superintendent Ferret.  Messenger then directed me to “be quiet” about the situation. I kept quiet, but nobody else did. The story of the pornography on my computer quickly became fodder for the school gossips.

Clark Messenger was not known for having much of a backbone, but overall, he was fair. He was Native American, soft-spoken, with an average build. He was easily intimidated by those in authority and would never rock the boat. His goal was to eventually become superintendent.

The whole situation bothered me. Why was I being told to keep quiet? Was Messenger hoping to trap the person who did it by keeping an eye on my computer and the messages received? Or was he just marching to the beat of a Ferret drum, trying to keep any problem out of the public eye?

People in a position of public trust can lose careers over such things. The newspapers had recently reported the case of a judge from Great Falls, Montana, who lost his job over pornography found on his computer. When it comes to porn in schools and classrooms, there’s always the possibility of jail time. I suspected that someone could be trying to set me up—hoping to get me fired for filing my sexual harassment/hostile work complaint. In the case of our school, only six people had the codes and technical knowledge to access a teacher’s computer.

I wanted to know who was sending those e-mails. It felt like retribution—and it scared the hell out of me. It had taken every bit of strength I had just to walk through the school doors that first morning. Opening up my computer to find all pornography certainly didn’t help. Still, I knew that to protect my job, and myself I needed to research the law and district policies on sexual harassment and hostile work environment. Little did I know I was one of the only ones following the rules.

I kept copious notes journaling everything that happened, no matter how minor. The district administration was angry, and I knew it. I needed to protect myself—even if it was me against the “big dogs”. Being told over and over again to “be quiet” only fueled my suspicions.

A few days later, during my seventh-period English class, the words “F*** BRITTENY” appeared in my e-mail box. I called the superintendent’s office immediately. Clark Messenger was already in the building, so he came by to tell me he would try to find out who was sending these messages. He re-directed my old e-mail address to another computer. He also told me not to talk about the incident to anyone.

When I found the pornography that the first day, I noticed a note on the screen: “Transaction confirmed.” To me, that meant that someone had to have accepted the transmission before it was downloaded to my computer. More than likely it required payment. Eventually, the transaction was traced to one of the school administrators.

A few days later, a close colleague reported that Wayne Coffey was joking with her and another female teacher about the pornography on my computer. Both women in their fifties were put off by his remarks. Wayne was older than most members of the administration. He was tall and always wore dark suits with long dark coats. He was often called, the “Enforcer.” At this time, he was serving as the business clerk for the school administration.

Wayne worked many jobs, but he didn’t always have the right credentials for these appointments. It was almost as if he was Dr. Harold Ferret’s fixer. While he didn’t have the advanced degrees of other members of the administration, the English teacher in me noticed that he was the one who knew grammar and could turn a phrase better than any of the others. But I still questioned why the business clerk was delving into the problem of a teacher receiving unwelcome e-mails.

Messenger had specifically told me to keep quiet about the matter. Apparently, he wasn’t taking his advice. Was the administration just allowing gossip or was the administration spreading rumors about the situation—and about me? Everyone seemed to know about the pornography. The next day the school custodian told me that a teacher’s aide had told him all about the pornography on my computer.  I found their behavior disturbing for many reasons.  We had harassment/ and electronic policies in place, and it seemed others gained immense pleasure out of my misfortune.  Retaliation for filing a complaint with the Montana Human Rights/EEOC was foremost in my mind. Reminded of Principal Baird’s final remarks at the end of the previous year, I began to suspect he was going to make do with his threat to terminate me. Retaliation according to law is illegal, but many things going in our schools were illegal. And according to most sexual harassment cases or complaints filed with Montana Human Rights/EEOC against the school, retaliation was part of the game.

During this same time, some of the school custodians had been caught accessing pornography on the school library computers. They were not fired but moved to another school. One of the teachers had graphic porn books and films hidden in the false ceiling of his middle school classroom. It was common knowledge to many staff members— a piece of information I had no clue about until my attorney, and I started questioning individual staff members. Again, nothing was done. The problems just wouldn’t go away.

This particular pornography incident became public July of 2005 when the Daily News reported that a teenager had broken into the school trying to access pornography on a computer. Once the story broke, Coffey vilified the 18-year-old publicly. The eighteen-year-old was charged with breaking into a school library to access Internet porn. Evidence proved ours was not the only school with the problem. Police reports showed some break-ins at the intermediate school. Nothing was stolen, but forensics showed the hackers attempts to access pornography sites after hours.

In my case, however, someone was specifically targeting my computer and me. There was no after-hours break-in to access porn. It was all sent from another computer. Even more disturbing than the pornography, was the fact that this incident was again the subject of gossip and innuendo. Once it became public that pornography was found on my school computer, the school administration could use this to intimidate me. I wasn’t responsible, so I tried not to let it get to me.

I felt small. Suddenly I was a little girl crying out for help, and nobody was listening. I didn’t get it! I was the joke. Everyone was laughing except me. By mid-September, the offensive e-mails had stopped. My computer had been re-routed to avoid the pornography, and it was impossible for me to use e-mail to communicate with staff, faculty, parents, and teachers.

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